The Known Stranger

ICE Today brings you a slice of fiction by Romaisa Rahman

The first thing that struck Mallon when he walked in through the door was the smell of porridge and something very close to urine. It took him a while to adjust his vision to the new light. Although the light was not much brighter than the dark hallway, it took him sometime to figure out what occupied his surroundings. He found himself standing in a dimly lit room with a bed in the centre. In one corner of the room was a chair in which shabby clothes were dumped one after another. On the wall over the chair, hung a photo frame from where a fair looking woman smiled. Mallon’s eyes darted around the room for a while but stopped as soon as the gypsy came to a halt. The gypsy slowly lowered himself onto the bed, resting his weight on his knees and kneeling forward. Confused, Mallon wondered what the gypsy was up to. Was he in pain? Mallon felt ashamed. Before he could approach the prostrating gypsy, he heard a croak that diverted his attention to a figure lying on the centre of the bed. Mallon suddenly realised that the gypsy was actually bent towards the small figure protectively.

Mallon tried not to move so as to give the gypsy his space and comfort. However, not much time passed until curiosity got the better of Mallon. He slowly walked towards the bed and when the gypsy did not make any defensive movement, Mallon knew he was welcome. On reaching the gypsy, he found himself looking at a small, frail girl lying on the bed with her arms stretched towards the gypsy. Mallon felt a pang in his chest. He slowly sat down on the bed beside the gypsy, his eyes fixed on the girl. After a few minutes of silence, the gypsy spoke, “This is my daughter Tiara and she is suffering from meningitis.” The little girl said something that was barely audible but it sounded something like, “Help me.” Mallon immediately had a déjà vu. For a moment he could hear the doctor saying, “I’m sorry Mr. Mallon, but your daughter has been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour.”

“She has been suffering from meningitis for the last year and her condition has gotten worse since her mother’s death two months ago,” he gestured to the photograph that was hung on the wall over the chair. “Today’s the last day of payment for her operation.”

The gypsy’s desperate, clumsy attempt to pick his pocket back on sixty four started to make sense to him now. Mallon sighed. He felt sympathetic towards the gypsy. As if his daughter’s diease was not enough of a punishment for him, he had to lose his wife too. Mallon’s life mirrored the gypsy’s in one way or the other. Mallon also lost his wife, only in his case it was to a divorce, and Lucy’s condition was once the same as Tiara’s. “What amount are you falling short of?” he asked. The amount turned out to be a bit of a nuisance since bank hours were about to be over and it would be impossible for Mallon to attend both the meeting with Dr. Silvestri and visit the bank. The meeting with Silvestri was equally important.

Mallon checked his watch again and knew what he had to do. He promised the gypsy that he would come back in two hours with the money. The gypsy believed Mallon’s words, not only because of the sympathy in his expression but also the confidence in his voice. Mallon asked the gypsy if there were any telephone booths nearby. Luckily, he found one. Mallon’s brain was working very fast. All he had to do was convince Silvestri to allow the meeting to be held an hour later which would buy him time to visit the bank. Since the taxi was already waiting, it would save his time, although it would be a little hard to convince the already furious taxi driver. He would have enough time to come back with the money after attending the meeting at Silvestri’s office. Mallon was never more confident and hopeful in his entire life. He would be able to help a child survive. The thought of it made Mallon smile.